An american abroad during the U.S. elections

by Kim on November 5, 2012 · 30 comments

Kim’s note: Another post from Brian. It has been really interesting experiencing U.S. election season abroad. Since Brian is the political guru in our relationship I asked him to write about it.


As Kim and I travel to various villages, towns, and cities, it has amazed me how many people ask us about the U.S. presidential election.

If we have a conversation with new people for more than a few minutes, inevitably the conversation will turn to the U.S. presidential election. I never expected that everyone with whom we talk would ask us about U.S. politics. I am not exaggerating when I say everyone.  Even the family we stayed with on a tiny island in Lake Titicaca asked us about the election. They did not have electricity and were a four-hour boat ride to the mainland, yet they knew the names of both Obama and Romney. I was blown away.

Talking politics is not a conversation I mind having. In fact, I enjoy it. I was a political science major in college and I do my best to keep up on the news.

The question we get the most: “Who is going to win? 

If I knew the answer to this question, I would be making my millions as a talking head on all the news shows. I tell people that I don’t know who is going to win, given that all the polls show that this election is too close to call. I try my best to remain as neutral as I can, not because I don’t have convictions in my personal political beliefs, but rather because I aim to explain to people why the election is so close and what the major issues are. I do my best to be an ambassador for the American people.

This leads to some interesting discussions sometimes.  For example, many Europeans are amazed to find out that social issues play such a pivotal role in American politics, and I try to explain how these issues effect the election while fielding questions about the separation of church and state.  Sometimes, it’s a fine line to walk.

On the flip side, I get to ask questions and learn a lot about how the political systems in other countries work and find out about what other societies value.  It’s a kind of knowledge exchange where each person (hopefully) gains a better understanding of how other people and other societies think and work. Neither one is better or worse- just different.  

Brian and our friend Leon, from New Zealand, stream the first presidential debate in Mancora, Peru. Okay, actually, in this photo they are watching music videos, but that is only because they debate was over and we still had half a bottle of rum left. 

What the conversations have made me realize is how important this election in particular is. Almost every economy around the world has been in some level of recession and recovery over the past four years. The United States economy, the largest in the world, has a huge impact on every economy.  Whether it is tourism, manufacturing, or even just buying groceries at the supermarket, the strength of the U.S. economy effects people all over the globe, and this is a major reason people are paying attention.  

It makes me realize how connected the world is and how decisions have far reaching impacts. I saw the farms in Ecuador where the bananas I purchased in Oregon are grown.  I talked to people from Mexico who work at a factory that export goods to America that are seen in every neighborhood in the U.S.  It’s hard to look at those things in the same way afterwards- you see how your daily decisions impact people who you most likely will never meet. 

I am not tying to compare politicians to bananas, but you realize that it’s fairly easy to connect the six degrees of separation from yourself to people all over the world.  And that’s a good thing, as it makes me more conscious of my decisions.

So, from the seemingly innocent question of who will win the election, comes very unexpected results, and encapsulates one of the reasons that life on the road is so good: You never know where the next great experience is going to come from. 

And please, if you are in the U.S., vote on Tuesday.  Regardless of your political ilk, let your voice be heard. 

Now, as far as who is going to win….